History of Waukegan Park District
- The Park District traces its origin to December 26, 1916, when the people of Waukegan authorized the creation of the Park District in a local referendum. The Park District marked its first official act on January 8, 1917, when the first five Park Commissioners met to organize the District and elect officers. The Park District, which had become a reality through the efforts of the Waukegan Women’s Club, the Waukegan Park Day Association, and the Waukegan Chamber of Commerce, began to embark on its mission to acquire and provide public parks and recreation facilities for Waukegan.
- The initial planning efforts of the Park District were concentrated on acquiring property for parks. Roosevelt and Washington Parks were among the earliest acquisitions of the new Park District. Other parks acquired in the first 14 years were Smith Park, Upton Park, Victory Park, Yeoman Park, Hinkston Park and the Powell Park expansion on Grand Avenue.
- The boldest park acquisition of all was to come in 1931 when the District acquired the Bonnie Brook Golf Club. As early as 1926, citizens had urged the Park Commissioners to acquire a municipal golf course. At the height of the Great Depression, the private Bonnie Brook Golf Club became available. A public golf course for Waukegan became a reality. Today, this 152-acre course is one of the finest municipal golf courses in northern Illinois and an indication of the importance of public opinion and changing economic conditions in affecting park planning and acquisition.
- After the acquisition of the golf course, the Park District settled into a period of slow growth. From 1932 through 1941, the only new park added was Belvidere Park in 1938. However, by its 25th anniversary year, the Park District had acquired 12 parks totaling over 225 acres.
- After World War II, the City of Waukegan and the Park District experienced another period of growth and expansion. Demands for new housing spurred development and increased the competition for available land. The Park District not only had to compete with developers, but with the City’s Recreation Department, which was still acquiring small parks and playgrounds for its programs.
- From the end of World War II through the early 1960s, the Park District began providing and expanding the recreational facilities in parks. These facilities included tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, picnic areas and ball diamonds. The Park District also built a new outdoor swimming pool at Belvidere Park in 1956, which was named for former Commissioner Howard E. Ganster.
- The most significant land acquisition made in the era after World War II came in 1963 when the Park District purchased Bowen Park. The Hull House, as a summer retreat, as it was then known, had established the Bowen Country Club, for Chicago’s urban youth.
- The Bowen Country Club was opened in 1912. It included a full range of facilities including dormitories, activity buildings, a pool and a dining hall. For 50 summers, the children of Hull House came to Bowen Country Club to enjoy the “country life” far from the streets of Chicago.
- Today, Bowen Park has been transformed into a public park with the widest possible range of recreation facilities. The park houses Lilac Cottage, which is the home of the John L. Raymond Historic Research Library, and the Waukegan Historical Museum, which is the headquarters for the Waukegan Historical Society. Other facilities include Grosche Baseball Field, Waukegan Skate Park and an award-winning playground. Bowen Park is also home to the Jack Benny Center for the Arts that opened in February 1987.
- When the Park District celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1967, at the new Administration Building in Belvidere Park, it seemed to have reached a peak of accomplishment. The District had truly come of age. In marking this anniversary, the District dedicated the 34-acre parcel it had acquired on Western Avenue in honor of William H. “Pop” Larsen, a long-time commissioner. The Park District launched into a new period of expansion after 1967. That wave of expansion was based on the preparation of the Comprehensive Master Plan for Parks and Recreation. This Master Plan, which was commissioned by the Board of Commissioners in March of 1967 and executed by T.E. Samuelson and Associates and Ahrendt Engineering, became the Park District’s first District-wide plan for parks and recreation. The plan, which was approved by the Board in August of 1967, helped pave the way for a new era of growth for the Park District.
- In 1968 the Park District purchased Greenshire Golf Course and opened the course in the spring of 1969.
- Between 1967 and 1969, the Park District acquired six separate sites with matching funds provided by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (B.O.R.). This period of growth produced Bevier and Clearview Parks, additions to Dugdale Park, and the Callahan and Adelphi sites.
- The City of Waukegan, under the leadership of Mayor Robert Sabonjian, moved by Council action on December 4, 1967 to transfer City-owned parks to the Park District. Among the sites acquired from the City during this period were Ben Diamond Park, Roger Edwards Field and Dugdale Park.
- The City also agreed to transfer the Department of Recreation and Playgrounds to the Park District. The City had operated a very active Recreation Department with Bevier Butts serving as Director since 1944. Upon Mr. Butt’s retirement in 1970, the City formally transferred all City-run recreation and playground programs to the Park District. This act made the Park District the principal provider of parks and recreation for the Waukegan community.
- With the Park District now coordinating recreation services, it began to plan and develop indoor facilities to meet the community’s needs. The Park District built the Belvidere Recreation Center (BRC) in 1972. The District also developed the Community Recreation Center (CRC) in 1977, which is located in Smith Park on South Genesee Street. The CRC is a prime example of a public and private partnership in recreation. The building was funded by the Park District, and was jointly operated by the South Genesee Branch of the YMCA and the Park District.
- During its 70th year, the Waukegan Park District continued its tradition of providing first quality parks and recreation facilities. On March 22, 1987, the District dedicated the Jack Benny Center for the Arts. On August 1, 1987, the Bonnie Brook Golf Course Clubhouse was dedicated. These facilities are examples of the spirit of accomplishment that has inspired the Waukegan Park District Commissioners to provide one of the finest park and recreation systems in Illinois.
- That spirit of accomplishment is further evidenced by the Commissioners’ decision on April 4, 1987 to undertake a Comprehensive Plan for the Park District. This new plan was completed in 1989, and served as a tool and guide for the Commissioners and staff to prepare the District for its 75th Anniversary in 1991.
- During the 75th Anniversary year, a number of major projects were undertaken or completed which enhanced the park system including Besley Park, Belvidere Park, Bowen Formal Garden and the King Park playground. A new playground was dedicated at the Western Tot Lot in 1989, and in 1990, the Ray Bradbury Park was dedicated.
- In fall 1991, the Governor signed the Property Tax Limitation Act, which established a tax cap and eliminated non-referendum bonding for non-home rule municipalities and districts in the collar counties. This law had an immediate negative impact on the financing of capital projects and improvements by the Park District. From that point on, many projects contemplated in the Master Plan were out of reach of the Park District.
- Despite this setback, the District continued to pursue those priority projects that were funded. In 1992, the District acquired Country Lane Park in the northwest community. The District also entered into a cooperative venture with the City of Waukegan and Waukegan Township to provide for a senior center in Belvidere Park to be known as Park Place.
- In 1993, the District received a major matching grant of $151,800 for the Bevier Park rehabilitation. Construction at Bevier Park began in the summer of 1993 and would be completed by 1994. New playgrounds were installed at Kirk, Dugdale, Clearview and Plonien Parks. Also in 1994, a new park was dedicated at Country Lane.
- The District also added the Janet Morrison Picnic Center at Bowen Park in the fall of 1993 through the generous financial support of the Robert Morrison family.
- The Board of Commissioners adopted the Parks and Open Space Master Plan in 1994. The Park District celebrated its first official “Parks Month.” Sports courts were constructed in cooperation with the Waukegan Township south of Park Place in Belvidere Park and the Haines Museum was restored in Bowen Park.
- Another Partners in Parks project was the Jack Hofflander Wildflower Refuge. The construction started in spring 1995 with dedication of Phase I during “Parks Month” in May 1995. Phase II was constructed in spring 1996 and dedicated during the 1996 “June Is Parks Month” activities. The final phase was completed and dedicated during the 2000 “June Is Parks Month” celebration.
- Projects completed in 1996 included Bowen Park lighting, parking lot and roadway improvements, Arbor Park construction and dedication, and the Bonnie Brook Golf Course Master Plan.
- In 1996, Saturn donated equipment, material and labor to replace the playground at Ben Diamond Park. From 1996 to 1999, the District renovated the tennis and basketball courts, installed new fencing at the ball field and along Sunset Avenue, and constructed sidewalks around the park. Also in 1996, the District dedicated the nine-hole Henry Pfau Callahan Disc Golf Course with the assistance of donations from the Callahan family.
- The Board of Commissioners’ directive implemented the Benefits-Based Parks and Recreation philosophy in December 1996. The voters of Waukegan overwhelmingly passed a referendum to increase the corporate rate of the Park District by $.25 in November of 1997. The money was used to support Capital Improvement Projects and enhance recreation programs and services. New steps were constructed in 1997 at Powell Park from Park Avenue to the bridge.
- A new playground was constructed at Graham Park from 1997 to 1998. In 1997, Clark Park was rededicated as Joe Sisolak Park.
- The Park District received the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s Section (IEPA) 319 Grant for wetland restoration and riverbank stabilization in Washington Park in 1998. The park district completed the project in 2000 and received a reimbursement of $71,250 from the IEPA.
- In 1998, the Park District was able to acquire property and build park sites through developer land/cash donations. The sites included Lancaster Subdivision (formerly Rudd Farm) and the Fields of Bayberry site. OSLAD funding allowed for the development of paths, play area, shelter, tennis courts and a half-court basketball court at the Lancaster subdivision site and was completed in 2002.
- During 1998 and 1999, masonry and carpentry repairs were completed at Douglas House.
- Additional acreage was acquired adjacent to Hinkston Park with the purchase of part of the Delong family property and adjacent to Clearview Park with the purchase of the McAree Road property. The developers of Hidden Glen Subdivision donated a park site and through OSLAD grant funding, a boardwalk, paths and play area were developed.
- The Park District acquired Orchard Hills Golf Course in January 1999. Prior to its purchase, the golf course was slated for development of single and multi-family homes. The Park District negotiated a price of $3.6 million with the intention of converting the 135 acres into a community-wide sports complex consisting of a nine-hole golf course and soccer, baseball and softball fields.
- The bridge at Yeoman Park was replaced in 1999. In 1999, the District worked with the Bowen Country Club Reunion Committee to design and construct a memorial at the north end of the Bowen Formal Garden for Ma and Pa Hicks, long-time directors of the Bowen Country Club.
- Legislative Line Item Grants and Department of Commerce and Community Affairs/Illinois First funding were received for several park improvement projects in 1999 and 2000. The parks include the Waukegan Municipal Beach, Upton Park, Rudd Farm Park Site, Bevier Park, Washington Band shell, Roosevelt Bridge, Ray Bradbury Park, Roosevelt Park, Kirk Park and the Community Recreation Center.
- In 1999 and 2000, developers donated property for park development at the Fields of Cambridge site and Eagle Ridge/Lewis Avenue Apartment Site, and the Park District acquired land adjacent to King and Bevier Parks.
- In 2000, half of the second floor of Lilac Cottage was converted into living quarters for interns. Also, the District dedicated the Callahan-Franklin Dog Exercise Area at Larsen Park with the assistance of donations from the Callahan-Franklin families.
- In 2000, the Park District received the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s Section (IEPA) 319 Grant for wetland restoration and riverbank stabilization in Roosevelt Park. The Park District, which completed the project in 2004, received reimbursement of $430,473 from the IEPA.
- In 2001, the Park District purchased and renovated an industrial facility from Cherry Electric, Inc. creating the Park Maintenance Facility which houses planning and park maintenance operations.
- The Park District received the Public Museum Capital Grants Program for the restoration of the Haines Museum in Bowen Park. The restoration project continued through 2003.
- In February 2002, the Board of Commissioners adopted the 2001-2005 Waukegan Park District
Parks and Open Space Master Plan.
- The Park District, with the City of Waukegan Community Development Block Grant funding, purchased properties adjacent to King Park in 2002.
- In 2003, the Boys and Girls Club of Lake County leased the Community Recreation Center.
- In February 2003, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Bowen Skate Park. The skate park was constructed at the site of the former Charles L. Whyte Pool. Skate Park construction began in April with the grand opening held on September 12, 2003 and named Waukegan Skate Park.
- In addition, in 2003, rededication ceremonies were conducted at Roosevelt Park in recognition of the installation of a new playground, entrance plaza, bridge and interpretive signs. Also, a new playground and pathway system was dedicated at Powell Park.
- At Bowen Park on December 11, 2003, a dedication was held for the Dr. Lynn Schornick Theatre in Goodfellow Hall. Also in 2003, an elevator was installed at the Jack Benny Center.
- The Park District completed a playground renovation at Woodard Park and received OSLAD Grant funding for the Fields of Cambridge park development in 2004.
- For 2004, additional capital improvement projects included construction of a Veterans Memorial Plaza in Washington Park, a field house with gymnasiums, a fitness center and Recreation Department headquarters, and development of an outdoor sports complex at the former Johns Manville plant site by the Waukegan lakefront.
- The Park District, with family and friends of the late Jack Hofflander, held a memorial celebration at the Jack Hofflander Wildflower Refuge on May 30, 2004.
- The Rudd Farm Park sign unveiling ceremony took place on June 17, 2004. The park is located in the Lancaster Subdivision off O’Plaine Road.
- On August 20, 2004, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at Hinkston Park to build a new field house. Located in the facility are a fitness center with walking track, basketball courts, volleyball courts, program rooms, childcare, and concessions. Also included are a library and computer lab, which are governed by a cooperative intergovernmental agreement with the Waukegan Public Library.
- The first dog drinking fountain was installed at Larsen Park in October 2004.
- Through the efforts of parents and members of the National Bicycle League and Park District staff, the Parks Division planned and built a BMX track at Henry Pfau Callahan Park. The BMX track officially opened June 12, 2005.
- New playgrounds and basketball courts were built at Bedrosian and Woodard Parks, and a new restroom building was built at Ben Diamond Park.
- The Veterans Memorial Plaza located in Washington Park was dedicated on November 11, 2005, with dignitaries present to honor the deceased veterans and the United States Navy Band performing taps. Keynote speakers included Congressman Mark Kirk and State Senator Terry Link.
- A park development was planned and built at the Fields of Cambridge subdivision. The park was dedicated in June 2006 and named Serenity Park.
- An OSLAD Grant application was submitted and received for the construction of a new playground at Bowen Park.
- In 2006, the Highland Park Opera House closed, leaving the Jack Benny Center for the Arts as the sole remaining opera house in Lake County.
- The Field House Sports & Fitness Center at Hinkston Park opened its doors on September 1, 2006 with formal dedication ceremonies held on September 16th. The facility is 85,000 square feet and features six gymnasiums, a fitness center, climbing wall and a branch of the Waukegan Public Library.
- In late 2006 and early 2007, Fireman’s Memorial Park was renovated with a new playground, walkways and a brick plaza.
- In early 2007, the golf division was reorganized. The Superintendent of Parks was given the responsibility of overseeing the golf maintenance division, and the Superintendent of Finance and Administration now oversees the golf operations division.
- Additional park improvements in 2007 included: a new playground at Bonnie Brook; Western Tot Lot was renovated with a new playground; a new stone stairway in Bowen Park ravine; and a new irrigation system and deep well at Bonnie Brook Golf Course.
- In July and August of 2007, in conjunction with Waukegan BMX Club, National Bicycle League Regional and State Races were held at the BMX Track in Henry Pfau Callahan Park.
- In December 2007, it was determined the Johns Manville site was not suitable and the Board of Commissioners authorized the closing of Orchard Hills Golf Course and directed staff to bring forward a conceptual site plan and estimate of probable costs for the development of an outdoor community sports complex at the Orchard Hills Golf Course site.
- In early 2008, the Barwell Dental building was purchased with the intention of expanding Bedrosian
Park. An application for OSLAD Grant funding was submitted for Bedrosian Park improvements.
The planned park improvements include a water spray park, a multi-age playground, a picnic area, a "cultural mural" over an existing concrete wall, color-coated four square and hopscotch with a "triple
play" basketball goal, a drinking fountain, outdoor fitness equipment and new bleachers for the basketball area.
- The new Bowen Park Playground was dedicated on June 7, 2008. Improvements included all new play equipment, a water spray feature, a new restroom building, a new exercise station pathway, an amphitheater for outdoor education, new park benches and landscaping.
- Additional park improvements included: Ray Bradbury Park - the play equipment and benches were replaced and relocated to improve accessibility, a concrete walk was installed to provide access from Park Avenue to the Ray Bradbury Memorial and the wood stairway was replaced with a more permanent and vandal-resistant limestone stairway; new play equipment at Larsen Nature Preserve; and ornamental fencing at Bonnie Brook and Western Tot Lot playgrounds.
- In August and September of 2008, in conjunction with the Waukegan BMX Club, NBL State Qualifier and State Championship races were held at the BMX track in Henry Pfau Callahan Park.
- The flag wall sculpture by artist Tom Queoff was installed and dedicated on November 11, 2008 at the Veterans Memorial Plaza.
- In December 2008, saunas and steam rooms were added to the member locker rooms at the Field House Sports and Fitness Center at Hinkston Park.
- The Board of Commissioners adopted the 2008-2013 Waukegan Park District Parks and Open Space Master Plan.
- A preliminary Site Master Plan for the Outdoor Community Sports Complex was developed and unveiled to the public in July of 2008. The Master Plan was developed from a series of meetings with sports organization representatives and the development team. It was determined to develop the project in two phases.
- In 2009, Phase I work began on the SportsPark which included construction of four lighted softball/baseball fields, 13 natural turf sports fields suitable for soccer, football and lacrosse, one lighted championship synthetic field, playground with splashpad, restrooms, roads and parking lots, concession buildings, and a maintenance building.
- The Park District was awarded an OSLAD Grant for playground and park improvements for Bedrosian Park.
- In June 2009, Bonnie Brook Clubhouse reopened after renovations which included reconfiguration of the banquet room and kitchen areas, new kitchen equipment, tables, chairs and an elevator installation. Construction was also completed on Phase I of the River Road Bike Trail in conjunction with Libertyville Township.
- In September of 2009, the Park District completed work on a Streambank Restoration Project at Powell Park as part of an Illinois EPA Section 319 Grant.
- In fall of 2009, mandated renovations to the Howard Ganster Pool were completed to meet the federal government’s compliance requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker (VGB) Act.
- Additional park improvements included the installation of new playground equipment at Larsen Park, the rededication of Ray Bradbury Park playground equipment and the unveiling of a new interpretive sign about Ray Bradbury, along with the installation of the Discovery Boardwalk at Roosevelt Park.
- In January 2010, an indoor golf learning center was opened at Bonnie Brook. It was named the "Howie Robinson Learning Center" after a longtime employee.
- Neighborhood families and children filled Bedrosian Park on July 1, 2010 to celebrate the park’s
rededication. Park District Commissioners and other dignitaries were present for the ribbon cutting
ceremony at the new playground. Based on the enthusiastic request of the children present, the
splash pad was opened first.
- In September 2010, the Board of Commissioners approved and formally adopted a three-year (2011- 2013) Strategic Plan. The process included public and staff participation and reaffirmed the district’s mission statement and a new vision statement was created.
- For Veteran's Day 2010, an American Legion memorial cornerstone and Homer Dahringer Post plaque honoring the former site of Post 281 were unveiled at Veteran's Plaza.
- The Waukegan SportsPark Grand Opening Celebration held on June 3, 2011 featured a VIP
reception, the unveiling of Wayne Motley Drive, along with opening ceremonies, softball and soccer
games, entertainment, games and concessions and a fireworks finale. The SportsPark won
multiple awards for design excellence and green initiatives including: Illinois Park and Recreation
Association Outstanding Facility and Parks Award, American Council of Engineering Companies of
Illinois/Gewalt Hamilton, Special Achievement Award, Illinois Society of Landscape Architects, Merit
Award American Public Works Association/Chicago Metro Chapter and Illinois Association, Gewalt
Hamilton/Project of the Year, Lake County Stormwater Management Commission/Best Management Practices Development Project of the Year and Great Lakes Park Training Institute Daniel Flaherty Parks Excellence Award.
- In 2011, Midwest Generation partnered with the Waukegan Park District to create a Children’s Garden behind the Jane Addams Center in Bowen Park. The company’s employee volunteers built garden components and prepared the site for the new garden.
- Roosevelt Park, Waukegan’s oldest park was rededicated on Saturday, June 18, 2011. Final components in the park’s ten year long rehabilitation were a rain garden, a permeable paver parking lot, new playground, elevated boardwalk that connected the loop walking trail and interpretive signage, all installed in 2011.
- In partnership with the Waukegan Park District, the Citizen’s Advisory Group (CAG) obtained two important grants, a US Fish and Wildlife Program Grant for Bowen Park Ravine Restoration valued at $93,000 and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant for $1.4 million which also addresses Bowen Park ravines.
- The 2011-2015 Cultural Arts Strategic Plan was adopted by the Board of Commissioners on September 13, 2011. The plan provides a blueprint for engaging the broader community, getting the word out, fostering strategic alliances and collaborations, enhancing and diversifying the quality and content of program offerings, taking leadership and increasing support.
- In fall 2011, the District engaged PHN architects to conduct an aquatic needs study. In addition to a community survey conducted by Public Research Group, PHN Architects lead several public meetings to gather input from the Board of Commissioners, staff, the Recreation Advisory Committee and the community.
- The family of Robert Morrison, an enthusiastic, longtime supporter of the Waukegan Park District, designated memorial donations made in Mr. Morrison’s name would be used to upgrade the Janet Morrison Picnic Pavilion in Bowen Park. A ceremony attended by Mr. Morrison’s family and friends was held November 5, 2011.
- In June 2012, the Waukegan Park District was selected as a finalist for the 2012 Gold Medal for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management in Class III (Population of 50,001 to 100,000) by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA), in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).
- In December 2012, the District entered into a management agreement with GolfVisions Management, Inc., to manage the district’s golf operations. The agreement includes operation and maintenance of Bonnie Brook and Greenshire golf courses as well as the food and beverage operation.
- Plonien Park upgrades were completed in 2013 with the installation of new playground equipment, landscaping, fencing and sidewalks.
- Improvements were made to the Callahan Franklin Dog Exercise Area which included fenced areas for large and small dogs, special water fountains and dog agility course and equipment. A grand opening celebration was held in September 2013.
- In 2013, two grants were received by the District to assist with the management of ash trees by the Emerald Ash Borer. The first grant was a Technical Assistance Grant of $18,000 supporting a tree inventory, tree inventory management software and the development of the Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan. The second grant was a Reforestation Grant of $30,000, supporting the removal of diseased trees and planting of replacements. Both grants were funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
- In October 2013, after being selected a national finalist in 2012 and 2013, the Waukegan Park District was awarded the 2013 Gold Medal for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management in Class III (Population of 50,001 to 100,000) by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA), in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association at the
NRPA Congress in Houston, Texas.
- In April 2014, a $400,000 OSLAD grant was awarded to the Waukegan Park District for playground and park improvements for Clearview Park.